Buddies with Beavers at Quonquont Farm
The Recorder, November 25, 2016, by Andy Castillo
The farmers who own Quonquont Farm and the beavers that live there have a special and rare friendly relationship.
But it wasn’t always like that: “They’ve made a lot of converts,” says Allison Bell, the manager of the almost 100-year-old farm. Bell, who has authored a few books on New England mountain summits for the Appalachian Mountain Club, helps run the farm along with wife, Leslie Harris, and co-owner Ann Barker.
Bell is standing at the headwaters of Dingle Brook, the edge of a small beaver pond — one of several on the farm’s 140 acres — a stone’s throw from a farm store and a few hundred yards from a converted barn used for special events like weddings. Across a narrow path, an apple orchard — Quonquont Farm’s primary crop — stretches up and over a small rise into a sky streaked in pastel hues. It’s a beautiful late-fall evening.
Around four years ago, the beavers moved in to stay. Within a short time, they’d dammed up the spring-fed brook, which flows through the property, and created a pond, threatening a blueberry patch. At first, Bell says the farmers panicked; however, after installing a “beaver deceiver” — a drainage system installed by Mike Callahan, who owns Southampton-based Beaver Solutions — water levels receded. The system was funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and keeps the beaver pond to a specified size.
As Bell explains, they’ve since become friendly neighbors with the beavers, living side-by-side in harmony. She acknowledged they’re a nuisance for others.
“It’s been quiet here for a while, but the beavers have made some renovations,” she says, pointing out a mud dam along the shore, noting that the water level has risen about half a foot over the summer — despite the drought. “You can see signs of them. They’re very active, taking down our willows for us. They’re volunteers.”
Next to the pond, a cluster of trees has been chewed clear. A large beaver lodge rises near the shore, overlooking the apple orchard. At night recently, Bell continues, the beavers have been particularly busy preparing for winter — which is why this month’s full moon was called a “beaver moon.”
“Willows, birches, maples, are all piled up under there,” she comments, pointing out a pile of branches the beavers have piled just under the surface, creating a food storage space below. Over the summer, she says, they usually graze on shrubs, grasses and underwater plants. In the winter, when the water is frozen over, they eat wood and bark.
Over the years, she’s become a subject-matter expert, studying the beavers’ habits with wildlife cameras, which are installed throughout the waterway-network, and researching their behavior norms.
“They’re just the most industrious creatures,” says Harris, who’s touring the “beaver’s domain” along with Bell. “People say ‘busy as beavers’ and they’re not kidding around.”
Friendly Neighbors who Love Apples
Suddenly, a small brown head pokes out of the water near the lodge. It’s the oldest: a one-eyed, large beaver that swims with a slight list on the right side and that has a particular taste for apples. Soon, a few others emerge, drifting like wet logs near the middle of the pond.
Usually, the beavers are most active at night; today, however, Bell says they’re curious about the activity on the shore. Bell discovered the beaver’s love for apples because of a well-worn path that led out of one of the ponds to a wild apple tree a few summers ago.
Since then, she’s observed the beavers scurrying out of the water, grabbing a fallen apple, and scurrying back.
“Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known they have a sweet tooth,” she says, pointing out where the path was — leading from the brook, which the beavers dug out into a deep canal.
As the beavers have built their “empire” over the years, the farm’s habitat has changed drastically, bringing in wildlife that wouldn’t frequent the area otherwise. One of the wildlife cameras, set up on the beavers’ dam, has captured images of bobcats, a family of otters, coyotes and various water fowl.
“We come down every evening and watch them,” Bell says while watching the old beaver come out onto the dam and gnaw on a twig, adding, “it provides a really interesting look into their lives.”
You can reach Andy Castillo
or 413-772-0261, ext. 263